Thursday, August 16, 2007

Let's Look On The Bright Side

This blog and its coterie of commentators has been all too critical. I've been railing on the region's "transportation team." Others have been excoriating our elected officials. And still others persist in seeing this blog as the instrument of Satan, namely, the Metropolitan Planning Council. Around us swirls a nasty political battle that may well doom the public transit funding/RTA reform package that is stuck in Springfield.

A sweet drive last night from Busse Woods to downtown Chicago with no congestion related interruptions and a series of quick trips today on the CTA made me realize that in the midst of predictions of doomsday the region's transportation system does work well much of the time.

So, this blog entry is dedicated to recognizing and celebrating what and who works well in the region's transportation system:

1. Which transportation agency in the region performs the best?

2. What city or municipality best practices transit-oriented development?

3. Which person has done the most to improve the region's transportation system over the past decade?

4. Which non-governmental agency has done the most to improve the region's transportation system over the past decade?

5. If we consolidated IDOT District One, the Illinois Toll Authority and the RTA into one regional mobility superagency who in the region would do best in running that agency?

6. Who is the most creative transportation professional in the region?

7. What part(s) of our region's transportation system functions most effectively?

Let's think positive and comment accordingly.


Anonymous said...

1.Hate to say it, but ISTHA maximizes its assets and delivers a reasonably good product without a subsidy.

2. Chicago, because it's been doing it for over 100 years.

3. Since ISTHA is the only agency not to slide backward and to move forward, I (extremely grudgingly) nominate Jack Hartman, who presided over ORT and the re-start of the 355 south extension.

4. Can't think of one. I like the folks at Metropolis 2020, though.

5. I can think of a few- Diane O'Keefe, Phil Pagano

6. Whoever thought of ORT (can't give credit to Jack twice, can I?)

7. The less congested parts of ISTHA, Metra (especially the Electric line which provides timely and frequent service), most state highways west of IL 47, and the CTA trains in off peak hours.

Anonymous said...

This is one of those Rich Miller-esque here's a question to distract from eminent doom, "now comment thoughtfully" posts.

Brian said...

It's not that we think MPC is satanic or an instrument of evil. Far from it. We're just really curious about who you are, and many posters had good reasons to believe you are one or several MPC staffers.

Will we ever find out?

Anonymous said...

1. After reading the entire Auditor General report, PACE winds hand down on best performance of all three Service Boards. Yes, they are the smallest, and the one without any clout; but they actually provide most of the necessary performance reports, etc., than any other service board. They simply need the instrument to move forward with the rest of the region; by providing them the necessary 'operating funds'; not grants through a suburban mobility fund that the RTA will provide at their discretion and their rules.

Okay, stay positive, stay positive.

2. As far as TOD; the City of Chicago; hands down. But TOD's are rather relevant in some parts of the city. The City of Chicago needs to extend those TOD practices on the South Side of Chicago. There is a lot of missed opportunities in that particular part of the region; especially moving forward with an Olympic Village, etc.

3. Okay, I have two. I'm being ironic with my first choice; but Ron Huberman, ever since he was appointed to the CTA; has dramatically changed that service board around in the relatively short time that he has been there.

2nd pick - The Little Village Environmental Justice Organization since they have continued to fight against unncessary closures which affect an overwhelming number of people who happen to be people of color.

4. ? Probably ISHTA for thinking ahead; but too many instances of abuse from that agency for me.

5. I can't answer this one. All these agencies have maintained the status quo in the region; preferring to advance one part of the region's transportation goal and vision while leaving the southern region behind. For instance, ISHTA for leaving out the 57/294 proposed interchange behind in their 'congestion relief' plan even thought the interchange has been on the books for 15 years.

I'm going to remain positive and get off this topic; since the RTA and District One are also guilty of keeping the status quo in meeting the transportation needs of the region.

6. Dan Johnson Weinbuerger and Dia Cirillo. Both talented individuals in the field. No, they are not planners; but understand the importance of transit and linking jobs, access, etc.

7. Downtown Chicago. You can basically go anywhere from this particlar region within minutes. Trollies, buses, trains, and el's, even water taxi's; wow, the choices are phenomenal.


Anonymous said...

Best functioning transportation agency would be one of the larger muni DOT's like Naperville perhaps even Chicago DOT; or a county DOT like Lake County.

Best professional to run a consolidated ISTHA/Dist 1 would be Kirk Brown or John La Plante.

Most effective transportation agency: Metra at least for commuting to downtown Chicago.

Anonymous said...

I second the motion for Kirk Brown.


Anonymous said...

Metra board blasts Springfield inaction

By Brandon Glenn
Aug. 17, 2007

(Crain’s) — Showing near-palpable disgust, Metra board members Friday blasted Springfield’s inability to pass a funding plan for the region’s cash-strapped public transit agencies.

Barbed comments represent a sharp departure from local public transit officials’ oft-repeated mantra that they remained optimistic that the governor and the General Assembly would reach agreement on a long-term funding plan for suburban commuter rail service Metra, urban transit agency Chicago Transit Authority and suburban bus system Pace. Together, the agencies face a combined 2007 operating budget shortfall of more than $200 million.

“It’s time to start looking at reality,” said board member Jack Schaffer. “The reality may be that Springfield accomplishes nothing.”

As the Legislature and Gov. Rod Blagojevich have been locked in a months-long budget battle, a plan to fund public transit in the Chicago area by raising local sales taxes and Chicago real estate transfer taxes has stalled in a House committee.

“I wouldn’t show any confidence in this piece of legislation going through,” said board member Michael Smith.

Noting that the funding plan hasn’t even gotten out of the House’s Transportation Committee, Mr. Smith remarked, “Really, it’s gotten nowhere,” another break from transit leaders’ past assertions that progress was being made.

Metra distributed a letter it plans to send to Gov. Blagojevich and about 100 legislators that makes its case for more funding. Without that funding, the agency will be forced to raise fares about 10% per year, reduce or eliminate all weekend service and reduce or eliminate weekday service after 9 p.m., the letter states. Metra has already begun diverting $60 million in capital spending to fill its operating funding gap this year.

“That’s it, guys,” said Carole Doris, chairman of Metra’s board, addressing the Legislature. “Come on. Now it’s your turn.”

Executive Director Phil Pagano bristled at what he said is the perception that Metra riders could afford fare increases.

“I’m tired of people saying our riders are lily-white, making $250,000 a year,” he said. “That’s BS,” adding that Metra has an economically diverse ridership including “secretaries making $20,000 and $30,000 a year.” Asked later by a reporter specifically who had made that assertion, Mr. Pagano replied, “It’s not any individuals. It’s the general atmosphere out there.”

Mr. Pagano also blasted what he sees as a disparity between attention paid to the CTA’s money woes and Metra’s.

“I’m getting a little tired of (hearing about) the CTA’s service cuts,” he said. “We’re all suffering.”

The CTA has warned that it will cut 39 bus routes and raise some cash rail fares by half, to $3 from $2, if it doesn’t receive assurances of additional funding from Springfield by Sept. 16.

Ms. Doris concluded the legislative update portion of the meeting by saying, “I guess this has been our venting session.”

Even as it faces the funding woes, Metra is on pace to set an annual record for ridership, Planning Director Lynnette Ciavarella told the board.

Metra expects to provide 80 million passenger trips this year, topping last year’s all-time high by about 1 million, Ms. Ciavarella said.

Metra has provided more passenger trips through the first half of 2007 than the corresponding portion of any preceding year. Its nearly 41 million rides so far this year top its previous record in 2001 by 3%, according to a memo Mr. Pagano sent to the board.

Ms. Ciavarella cited additional service, increased employment in the Chicago area and high gas prices for Metra’s surging ridership.

Anonymous said...

Who is the most creative transportation professional in the region (Q.6)? Without a doubt, it's John Delaurentis, the RTA's planning director. He's created more innovative programs over the last decade than all the other agencies combined. First RTAP, then corridor studies, RTAMS and several others. Too bad the political combine here has put a brick on so many things, or he'd be a shoe-in for Q.3 as well.

Anonymous said...

Johnny D? must be a joke. or he wrote that. or maybe Oscar D'Angelo did? or maybe that was an MPCr?

Also, I read this: "The Little Village Environmental Justice Organization since they have continued to fight against unncessary closures which affect an overwhelming number of people who happen to be people of color."

True, with NCBG gone, LVEJ is the only one still left fighting CTA, but I'm trying to figure out what "closures" they've been fighting against. Their most visible fight is against the Pink Line, which has helped double service levels to the poorest areas of the region.

As far as non-governmental success, it's hands-down the Center for Neighborhood Technology. They are a national treasure, right here in our own backyard. Small is beautiful! Particularly in Illinois these days.

Anonymous said...

6.Most creative transportation professional: The guy over at the RTA that has been leading their planning department for about the last ten years. He has been somewhat controversial because of his willingness to vigorously challenge and debate conventional wisdom/beliefs. Nevertheless, he brings considerable intellect, leadership and contribution of professional thought and ideas to planning in our region. He created a comprehensive and integrated planning program at the RTA unlike any other in our region. And this program is slowly but surely changing planning in our region for the better, and bringing beneficial changes in transit service for users.

Anonymous said...


The problem with "the guy at the RTA" and I presume you mean John DeLaurentis is that he is more interested in changing the system than fixing it. What are those theories doing about congestion? Soon or later you have to build something that people can use.

Peter Skosey said...

"Let's think positive and comment accordingly" Satan? Gee thanks

Anonymous said...

Who called MPC "Satan" or even wrote a negative word about MPC? I think you're going a little overboard, Moderator, to prove that you aren't an MPC wonk, and your choice of words paints MPC in a bad light. As another commentator wrote, it isn't as though anyone thinks MPC is Satan, just that some of us believe that one of the MPC staffers is the author/moderator.

Agreed that John D is the most innovative thinker in the region who realizes that for the system to succeed, it can't just be maintained - it needs to be changed. Transportation systems have to change with the times, or else Chicago will end up as just another midwestern has-been, like St. Louis or Detroit.

Anonymous said...

The only creative thing Johnny D. ever did was to steal the best peolple fromm all the other agencies with high salarys and big promises and then put them to work on his plans for the suburbs and Metra. What did he do for the CTA that serves more than 80 percent of the riders?

Anonymous said...

DeLaurentiis is certainly interested in changing the system more than fixing it. We've had plenty of "fixers" over the years and one could make a good argument that they are responsible for our current sad state of affairs in transportation in this region.

Delo's strong suit is clarity of thought and original ideas but he also knows a thing or two about pouring concrete.

Anonymous said...

This is definitely one of the strangest threads on this blog.

"Delo's strong suit is clarity of thought and original ideas but he also knows a thing or two about pouring concrete."

No one writes a sentence like that about another person, unless they're paid to, or it's an autobiography. It reads like a book jacket.

Anonymous said...

I love John DeLaurentiis for the way he challenges all of the bugle oil that gets passed off as professional thought around here.

Anonymous said...

This notion of 10 years of innovation at RTA interested me, since I don't really know much about DeLaurentiis and hadn't really heard about these great things someone at the RTA was up to, so I decided to get out my budget books and annual reports and see what I've been missing (what other record is there?).

Among a bunch of programs and this-n-that that are nice, but that don't come off as all that news-worthy, I couldn't help but notice that year-after-year there's been, and I calculate, very roughly, that over the last decade the RTA, presumedly the Planning Department under the helm of Mr. DeLaurentiis, has spent at least $70-80 million on various things that could be put under the title of technology projects. For the life of me, I cannot figure out what that money has resulted in.

Anyone? $80 million and what have we got out of this? Is this the innovation and leadership some folks think is so special?

Am I missing something?

Anonymous said...

$80 million. A bargain for the universal fare card burning a hole in your pocket just to be used on the personal rapid transit system running on guide wires strung throughout the region. Plus, we get real-time next bus/train arrival time information from a single source delivered to our computer/cell phone.

Such a deal.

Anonymous said...

If John Delaurentis is the designated hot shot then why is the RTA adding senior people with planning duties in their lengthy titles? Is that a measure of his effectiveness or just the opposite?

Anonymous said...


Billions have been spent in the name of reducing congestion. It's a false promise. As director of planning at the RTA, DeLaurentiis' role is to provide timely, clear and accurate information on planning matters to decision makers. Under his leadership his department has done that and more, developing a number of promising technology ideas and information products in conjunction with the Service Boards. The RTA however does not build things under the current organizational structure. Service Boards do.

And this ain't no bought and paid for comment.

Anonymous said...


THose RTA program documents aren't worth the paper they're printed on for providing any useful or accurate information. The RTA has yet to figure out how to budget a multi-year program such as the planning program is. And so there is a lot of double and triple counting of $. See the AG's findings regarding the usefulness of the RTA's financial and budget documents.

THe actual amounts spent on technology are very modest - far less than the $70-$80 million cited by the commenter.

IF anything, the RTA and DeLaurentiis have been guilty of not giving the good work enough public exposure.

Anonymous said...

This has all been very interesting, but I think some of you are confusing "who is the most creative transportation professional in the region" (Q.6) with "which transportation agency in the region performs the best" (Q.1). After all, who is ultimately responsible for agency performance? Is it the Planning Director(s) or the Executive Director(s)?

Tommy Thompson said...

A new idea in transportation

Tommy Thompson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.